Serena Williams came into this year’s Wimbledon tournament with very little match play. She has struggled with injuries all season. Williams lost in the third round of the French Open to a rising young American, Sofia Kenin.
Yes, the struggles of Serena Williams this season have been well-documented. Still, every time she steps on a tennis court–especially at a Major–you don’t expect to see her lose. More importantly, you never expect her to get dominated on court, even for only a set. Definitely not at Wimbledon, a tournament she was won seven times. And certainly not against a teenager with no real big-stage experience.
Where did Juvan come from?
Kaja Juvan is a Slovenian player who has never reached the WTA Top 100. She was a Top 5 Junior back in 2017, but no one expected her to make waves on the main tour this early. She has definite talent, but anyone who even heard of her before this tournament knew she was still a work in progress.
Juvan was not ranked high enough to enter the Wimbledon main draw directly. She had to come through qualifiers, and barely even made it to the main draw. She lost the second set of her first qualifying match to Valentini Grammatikopoulou, a player who has never even cracked the Top 150. In fact, Juvan needed to go all the way to 10-8 in the third set just to get to the second qualifying round. In that round, she dropped the first set to Basak Eraydın, another player who hasn’t yet seen the Top 150. Then, finally, Juvan looked strong in her final qualifying match, blasting past Christina McHale. And in the first Round at Wimbledon, Juvan was impressive in getting past Kristyna Pliskova.
With that path here, no one could have expected the Slovenian teenager to challenge Serena Williams. Even on her worst day, Williams should be able to get past a player still struggling with those ranked outside the Top 100.
Juvan comes out firing
The young Slovenian did not seem at all fazed to start the match. She held serve to open, the broke Serena straight away. A few minutes into the match, and Juvan already had a 3-0 lead. She looked confident, and powerful. Juvan was in no way overawed by the occasion or the opponent. She was blasting balls everywhere she could, and they were finding their marks.
Yes, she was absolutely aided by a struggling Serena Williams. Williams had issues with her footwork and missed some shots that were definitely makable. Still, though, this was mostly about the racket of Juvan. The Slovenian would likely never have stuck with a Serena Williams at anywhere near 100%. But the way she played made it so that this struggling Williams couldn’t overcome her issues. At least at first
Serena fights back
In under 27 minutes, Juvan had taken the first set away from the seven-time champion, 6-2. Williams, though, is an all-time great for good reason. She fought back, with her signature yells, and broke Juvan in the opening game of the second set. She couldn’t earn that second break on her first try, but got it on the second. Then it was just up to the serve. There were tense moments once or twice, but Williams held her serve throughout to take the second set 6-2.
The third set was finally vintage Serena Williams. She was hitting the ball cleanly and clearly, playing at a level that just about no one else would be able to compete against. Juvan lost a little bit of her top form later in the match, but really it was all on Serena’s racket. Williams went up two breaks in the final set. She failed to serve it out on her first opportunity, but a perfect game on her next chance gave her the third set, and the match, 6-4.
Williams will advance to face Julia Goerges in the third round. Goerges looks in good form, and the American will need to raise her level if she wants to continue her pursuit of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles. After her struggles on this season, avoiding this upset could be just what she needed to hone her game even more.
Juvan, meanwhile, certainly won’t go away. If she can continue playing like this, she’ll break into the Top 100 very quickly. As long as she continues her rise, we’ll see her in big matches for a long time in the future.
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